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Don’t Let Your Marriage Become Another Coronavirus Casualty — Communication Strategies During Quarantine

Top Texas Family Law Firm Gives Practical Advice to Married Couples in Times of Great Stress

BY // 04.01.20

The entire city of Dallas has been ordered to shelter in place  at home — an increasing normality in this coronavirus pandemic reality. Non-essential (most) businesses have also closed their doors, with millions of people working from home. These new mandates are affecting every service-based business in the country.

The legal profession, at least those law firms on top of things, are also pivoting to the keep pace with the times.

“We are working with clients remotely, as I’m sure every responsible lawyer is,” says Dawn Budner, partner at Calabrese Budner Law Firm.

Budner explained, “Initially, the family courts suspended all hearings except for emergencies like family violence or imminent danger to a child.” Two weeks later, Budner says, “courts are considering legal issues by written submission or conducting legal hearings with technology such as Zoom. Like every industry, the legal profession is adapting to the new normal.”

Calabrese Budner is a law firm that specializes in family law and divorce, and they know marriages that were struggling before are being tested even more now. “Being in close quarters creates additional stress,” Calabrese says. She points out that couples may be working from home while caring for young children, worries about keeping their jobs, and afraid that family members or friends will contract the virus.

Family law practices expect that once we are on the other side of this health crisis, and the restrictions are lifted, there likely will be a surge in divorce filings.

“What we do know is that, at various times, when couples have to grin and bear it…we tend to see a surge in divorce filings afterwards,” Budner says.

For example, January is a big month for divorces after the sometimes forced togetherness of the holidays. There tends to be a similar surge in August and September as well, because people want to get through summer holidays and family vacations, according to Budner.

Calabrese Budner lawyers believe that with some strategic thinking and effort, married couples can avoid this trend and get through these difficult weeks together.

This is a law firm that wants to keep you married.

Advice For All Married Couples

By recognizing additional stressors, couples can take steps to protect their marriage. And especially before considering divorce, Calabrese Budner recommends therapeutic intervention. During the pandemic, many excellent marital therapists are willing to work with couples virtually, Calabrese says.

“In marital therapy, you have an experienced professional to help work through conflicts, and maybe set ground rules . . . so both spouses can feel heard and stay in the conversation instead of reacting,” Calabrese says.

Even under normal circumstances, when a client comes in seeking a divorce, Calabrese Budner trains its lawyers to ask whether therapeutic options have been attempted. They believe couples, especially those with children, should try those options before filing for a divorce.

Advice For Families With Kids

For couples with children, parenting is especially difficult right now. In addition to home-schooling and trying to work remotely, parental may disagree about the best course of action to keep children safe and secure. Is it okay to have playdates? How much screen time is too much?

One way to reduce conflicts over logistics like these is to add some much-needed structure to the day. Calabrese Budner created a template for families to use as a starting point to bring routine back into play.

coronavirus marriage divorce kids
Having kids who’d normally be at school home all day under social distancing measures can add to the stress on a marriage.

Both parents and children can benefit from a schedule. “I think having a clear structure for what your kids are doing when, and then dividing supervision duties in an orderly way, is an excellent help to working parents right now,” Budner says.  She suggested couples use the “family” schedule to block off portions of the day when each parent can work. With some negotiation and compromise, couples avoid having one parent carry the entire weight of home-schooling and childcare when both parents are working from home.

Budner also suggested that families post some simple ground rules that apply to productive communication in general. These rules are especially helpful for already stressed couples, who now find themselves under a quarantine. Before consulting an attorney, couples should try to implement these strategies:

― Breathe. It is the foundation of centeredness.

― Show Compassion. We are experiencing a global crisis. We are stressed out, thrust together in close quarters and many of us need to work from home, while parenting children who would normally be in school. Many families are worried about their finances and their futures.

― Listen First.  Don’t think about how you will respond. Try to hear what your spouse is saying. Repeat back what you understand them to be saying, to make sure you heard it right.

― Communicate With “I” Statements.  Share what you are feeling and what you need with “I” statements, owning your own feelings. “You” statements often lead the conversation down the wrong path and elicit defensiveness.

― Apologize. As soon as you recognize that you made a mistake, reacted emotionally, or said something you shouldn’t have, say “I’m sorry.” These two words can diffuse bigger arguments. This may be the very best communication skill you ever teach your children, and it’s likely to come in handy with your spouse as well during trying times.

― Avoid Assumptions. We all make assumptions and fill in blanks with our imaginations, and very often we are wrong.  Look at the facts ― what you actually know because you observed it. And before you get annoyed or wounded, make sure the story you are telling about someone else’s motivations or meaning is actually true.

― Own Your Communication. You cannot control much right now ― not coronavirus, not being in forced tight quarters, not your spouse’s attitude nor their actions. The one thing you do have control over is your own communication ― so make it positive and productive. Your children need security more than ever right now.

For more marriage coping tips and strategies, check out the Calabrese Budner website.